My TI-83 Graphing Calculator Is The Real MVP and My STEM Folks Know What I'm Talking About

Panama Jackson
Panama Jackson

In the summer of 1997, right after graduating from high school, I was offered the opportunity to participate in a pre-freshman summer program at Morehouse College (my eventual alma mater) directed at those of us entering the school as science, math, or engineering majors. It was called Center of Excellence in Science, Math, and Engineering (COE) and was paired with the Dansby Scholars program, geared towards students intending to major in physics. Some of the program was funded by NASA if memory serves correct.


All of us took a Mechanics (Physics) and a Calculus class. For those of us intending to be engineering majors, there was an Intro to Engineering class that included a lab (I believe) and alternately some other class for those going into, I don’t know, biology or something. I honestly can’t remember. In any of the classes, if we received a B or better, we’d receive college credit.

What I remember most from this program are the mandatory study halls, sneaking to Spelman College for lunch (and the debates about where risking our stipend was worth it), Professor Oyedeji giving somebody an actual “zero”on an assignment and ranting to us “FOR THE FIRST TIME, I GIVE ZERO” a statement that would find its way into one of the many freestyle sessions during the mandatory study halls, taking my Mechanics final – a multiple choice test – by flipping a coin and upon dropping my quarter turning in my exam sheet that I’d clearly failed, my boy Calvin (one of the two people I give credit for my ever blogging, with the other being Liz) chasing some kid around campus with a belt, and the 14-hour spades bender I went on with a dude nicknamed Nacho and a cat named Brandon who looked like Prince (I can’t remember who the fourth party was) because the fucking game just would not end.

Real spit, one my boys went to sleep, and when he came back down saw the four of us still playing this game and incredulously asked, “y’all niggas are STILL going at it??”

It was a great summer.

We stayed in the then upper class dorm, Fair Street (now Perdue Hall), made great friendships (several of which I maintain to this day as my closest friends on this here planet Earth), we got a $1,000 stipend, and got to go on various excursions around Atlanta.

And at the end of the program, they gave us a Texas Instruments (TI)-83 graphing calculator. Ladies and gentlemen, I still use this calculator, as recently as today.

All of us in this program were intended math or science majors, which means most of us took some AP Calculus, Physics, Chem, Bio, etc classes in high school. For the AP Calculus class, a graphing calculator was required, so my parents sprung the (I believe) $89.99 for a TI-82 in 1996 (it is amazingly $116 on Amazon right now). I passed my AP exam by taking the derivative of everything and hoping for the best because I definitely checked out in that class. I got a 3 on my exam and earned some college credit. I also remember being finished with that test WAAAAAAAY before everybody else and firing up Tetris on my trusty 82. Some of you know what I’m talking about.


By the end of the COE summer, we were given the TI-83 (still $90 on Amazon) and because my 82 was trucking along fine, I just packed it away until necessary. My 82 carried me safely through my entire undergrad career and all of my Calculus, Differential Equations, Linear Algebra, etc classes, but it eventually gave out and I had my awesome as fuck TI-83 to fall back on.

Let me tell you. The 82 was bad ass to me. If you’ve never used a graphing calculator, you’re missing out. But the TI-83 was like stepping up into a Cadillac Escalade from a Chevy Trailblazer. It was an upgrade of upgradious proportions. It felt better. It looked better with the multi-colored buttons and better screen resolution. I carried that joker with me everywhere academics were happening. In grad school, in my statistics classes, it was my TI-83 that did the dirty work. I’d program equations and sequences, getting my basic coding on, just to one up my classmates in my Master’s program (which was clearly not a math program – nobody else was rocking a graphic calculator in the public policy stats class).


After receiving my Master’s degree and getting a job that required a significant comfort of mathematics and computational analysis, it was my TI-83 that joined me in my office. Nearly 20 years after receiving my TI-83 in July of the year of our lord nineteen hundred and ninety seven, I’m still using the same calculator that an entirely different version of myself was gifted for dreaming about becoming an engineer. I did not become an engineer. And yet, I’m still using my 83.

Sometimes when I get bored, I create a graph or 100 on my calculator, while hitting that Cosine on that beat, Tangent on that beat, Si-Sine on that beat. I feel like if I don’t use my graphing calculator to do more than simple mathematics, it will feel unloved and lose its purpose. And a calculator without a purpose isn’t a calculator at all. It’s just a trinket you buy on a boardwalk on a beach. Life is beach chair.


While I’m not in the engineering arts any longer, and I don’t have a use for 99 percent of the functions of this calculator, I’m glad I still have this relic from my past that’s seen me through good times and bad. My TI-83 has been a companion. It’s only needed a battery change and then it keeps on ticking, following me decade after decade, hopefully continuing for several more until it decides to take that final technical nap.

Window. Zoom. Trace. Graph.


Because You+Me = Us.

To the trusty, durable, and dependable TI-83 that’s been my best friend in times of mathematical need: You are appreciated.

Panama Jackson is the Senior Editor of Very Smart Brothas. He's pretty fly for a light guy. You can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking all her brown liquors.



What put folks on the STEM train? Anyone get here late in life?